Why women need to stop pretending success was a happy accident
Hint: It’s killing every other ambitious woman’s soul and upholding the patriarchy.
Yesterday something happened that has never happened before.
I felt triggered by a Glennon Doyle podcast.
Let me be clear, most of the time, I drink in Glennon’s words like a hungover person given a cherry slushy.
But yesterday was different.
In this podcast, Glennon was talking about how she was “discovered”.
To paraphrase it went something like this:
“Someone finally added share buttons to my blog. The next day I wrote a blog and it went viral. Suddenly tons of agents were writing to me, and I didn’t know what to do, so I was responding, asking them, “WHAT DO I DO.”
The way this story was told allowed me to conclude that Glennon’s success was a happy accident befallen unto her in blissful naivety.
She was so innocently chosen by the world, she didn’t even know what to do when they chose her.
Even the way she casually throws in “someone added share buttons to my site” makes it seem as if a do-gooder with hacking skills secretly accessed her blog to divinely optimize it for her benefit — not that someone was strategically hired and paid to do so.
And so, as triggers do, I rationally concluded and reacted to the following things in an instant, without even realizing:
- The key to being chosen is to accidentally fall into it.
- Don’t want or try for success. It’s not cute.
- Wanting & trying for success makes me less likely to become a success.
- I will never be successful.
So I spiraled for trying. I spiraled for wanting. I spiraled for not being chosen. Then my spirals converged into a Wizard of Oz-style vortex as Toto flew by.
Now, I am a grown-ass adult and I take responsibility for my reactions. None of the above statements are TRUE, nor is it Glennon’s fault for making me feel that way. I deeply admire her, her work, and her authenticity. This is not a call-out piece.
Those instantaneous conclusions were not conscious rational thoughts but subconscious manifestations of my societal programming. You see, I, like most women, was societally programmed to:
- Outsource answers to those who seemingly know what they’re doing.
- Assume that I’m wrong about everything.
- Assume I need to be chosen to be worthy.
- Not trust myself.
As a result, I’m predisposed to assume I’m on the wrong path at every turn. I’m aware of it, and I’m actively recovering.
BUT THEN something interesting happened to interrupt my vortex of despair.
Glennon’s sister cut in to say that months before this viral post, they’d made fancy packages of Glennon’s blogs and sent them to publishers hoping for a book deal. Not only that, they were all rejected. Suddenly, my subconscious was rejoicing:
BOOM. GLENNON TRIED TOO.
BOOM. NOT ONLY DID SHE TRY, BUT SHE WAS ALSO REJECTED TOO.
BOOM. MAYBE THERE’S HOPE FOR ME YET!
That tiny edit to the success story landed me with ruby slippers back in Kansas. “If she can try, want success, get rejected, and then become GLENNON-FREAKING-DOYLE, so can I.”
Now, I know I’m not the only person prone to the self-hating narratives we’ve been spoonfed since we were toddlers.
So I started wondering, “How many others are having soul-crushing moments when they hear these glossed-over stories of fairy-tale success?”
Because this type of storytelling is not exclusive to Mama G.
I see it amongst self-made women all the time. They don’t want to own being self-made. They are safer pleading naivety and happenstance.
Why? Perhaps because:
- Where a man is called ambitious and strategic, a woman is called pushy, desperate, greedy, manipulative, or calculated.
- We’ve been programmed to believe that women must be deemed worthy by men.
- The world tears down successful women any chance they get.
- We are so disconnected from ourselves, we can barely admit to ourselves what we want.
- All of the above
So like a rom-com where the clumsy girl accidentally falls into her dream man’s arms, it’s safer for us to tell stories where our success seems to casually happen to us.
It’s no one woman’s fault. It’s a society that hates women who succeed.
I can list several other success stories that follow this narrative; I heard it play out on three other podcasts just last week.
Gulp… I’ve done it too.
When I tell stories of my first company, I will often say something along the lines of “Our goal was to hit 1000 people on the waitlist in six weeks, and we hit that in two weeks! After a few months, we had 13,000!”
I tell the story as if I simply happened upon thousands of emails in a meadow on a warm spring day.
I don’t highlight the fact that:
- I carefully planned exactly how I would build that list with detailed growth projections.
- I have 10 years of marketing experience in building growth from scratch.
- Even with this experience, I hired people who were better at me in their specific channels to help me.
- I had done the math and believed that anywhere from 3000–4000 subscribers was plausible.
But instead, I tell a story that makes me feel chosen, rather than smart. Why? Because it feels safer as a woman to appear lucky than it is to highlight your intelligence.
And that’s what triggered the spiral.
I was triggered because I do want Glennon-level success (but my own version), and I do try to put plans together to make that happen.
I was triggered because I felt my planning for this success made me look like a greedy, calculated, and unworthy biatch.
I was triggered because her story of being blissfully chosen made success feel unattainable to me, as someone that rarely feels selected by anyone.
And I know I’m not alone in any of these feelings.
So let’s stop this madness this year, ladies.
No matter where you are in your journey, try to stop telling stories as if you simply wandered onto the court, or tripped into the finish line.
Stop pretending you’re not pursuing what you want.
Stop pretending you’re putting things out in the world “just because,” if what you really want is viewers, buyers, and followers.
I understand that sometimes, things simply do align and everything just clicks into perfect form without a plan. But don’t discount the rest of the story. Don’t discount the planning and trying that comes beforehand.
Share stories about how you trained, strategized and trusted yourself even when it seemed like you were lagging miles behind.
When we downplay our effort towards our goals and focus our stories on the moment it finally worked, we teach others coming up behind us that it’s shameful to own their pursuits unless they see external success.
We perpetuate the fairytales of being chosen, rather than create a narrative where it’s safe and POWERFUL to be a woman in pursuit of their well-deserved success.
Say it with me: I am strategic and smart. I want and deserve success. Hear me FUCKING ROAR.
This is how we keep lifting up others to succeed. By normalizing wanting to win.